Orphan Train: A Novel By Christina Baker Kline
Reviewed by Stephanie V.
“Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.
The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.
Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are”
On the outside one would not think that 91 year old Vivian Daly and 17 year old foster care student Molly have much in common but then they would be wrong. Kline expertly weaves her historical tale about the orphans shipped out to the Midwest on trains in the early 1900’s as we get to know these two women.
I felt the book started off a little slow and at first was wondering how I was going to trudge through this book when suddenly I found myself captivated. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline focuses on Molly who has been in multiple foster homes since the death of her dad. As you can imagine she is rebelling and we see how she is acting out by making her hair crazy colors or the way she dresses but underneath is a very intelligent girl who needs a break. Vivian on the other hand is a 91 year old woman who seems to have led the perfect peaceful life but as these two get to know each other we go back in time and learn the story of Niamh (now Vivian) who is shipped out to the Midwest on the orphan trains after tragedy strikes her family.
Kline takes us on a very emotional journey as we ride along the childhood tragedy of Vivian and the resulting life she lives after being placed on the train. We bounce along with her from home to home and one tragic situation after another. Kline’s writing does such an excellent job creating these volatile environments for you that I must say you may need a bit of a trigger warning if you have grown up in a violent home. At times I could feel the anxiety of the situation with such depth I needed a break. The friendship between Vivian and Molly is a pleasure to watch unfold and serves as an excellent way to tie the two stories together. We learn more about Molly as Vivian shares her history with her and their relationship grows. I loved some of the characters we are introduced to during this time and hated others. There are moments of joy and kindred souls such as the young Dutchy and her school teacher. There are also people who are not so kind yet Kline still brings you into their circumstances and somehow you can feel a little sad for these people and understand why they act the way they do.
I would have liked to have seen a few of the characters such as Molly’s foster mom written a little better with a little more depth. I felt we were just stuck on some typical cliché’s with her stepmom when perhaps the reasoning for her behavior could have been fleshed out a little bit like the mean characters in Vivian’s background. I also really wanted to know more about Molly. Vivian’s story is fully fleshed out, and though frustrated with her choices at times, I felt satisfied with where we leave her when the story ends. On the other hand, I found myself wanting to know a little more about Molly. When I turned the last page I was a little disappointed that those answers were not to come.
Overall, Orphan Train was a great book. Kline brought my attention to a topic I really didn’t know much about and left me feeling really touched by their story. I find myself curious about the orphan trains now that I have been made aware of them. The book was a quick read once I got into the story and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. Keep in mind the serious nature of subject matter and you will have realistic expectations for the story.